Children's Health, Parenting, reading, Young Adult fiction

YA versus NA: It’s Time for That Discussion

Image result for young adult books

First, after I just posted a conversation on overly harsh reviews, I want to clarify that I am not bashing any particular genre, sub-genre, style, and certainly not particular authors.

Second — why, in the course of looking for images for this post, did I have to see so many great-looking titles that my local library system does not have?! Sigh…

Boy, I’m just full of whinging this week…

Anyway, this is something that’s becoming a big deal in my household. I have a 13-year-old, and there are certain things that I prefer he not read, watch, or take in — even if I can’t prevent him being exposed to it. I want him to understand that there’s a difference between what’s considered appropriate and tasteful at his age…versus, when he’s older.

I know I’m not the only parent struggling with this. My complaint is not with the content of novels — in terms of sexual references, substance use, violence, explicit language, that all boils down to free speech, I firmly believe, and one can choose to read it or not to read it. No, my big issue is this: The difference between Young Adult and New Adult needs to be clearly labeled.

For example, let’s look at the Jackaby series by William Ritter: There’s kissing, but no graphic sexual descriptions. Violence and some blood and gore, but around a PG-13 rating. And the violence is directly connected to proving the bad guys are the bad guys, not just for the apparent heck of it. There’s a little swearing, but again, nothing more than you’d find in an Avengers movie. I’d let my son read these books if he was interested in the story.

Now, let’s go to A Court of Thorn and Roses and A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas: These are fairytale re-tellings for the New Adult market. There are some hardcore intimacy scenes in these stories. Before anyone thinks I’m hating on this author, please refer to my above statement. I decided not to read this will-be trilogy, purely because I don’t care for the blatant bedroom scenes. It’s a personal preference. So, I can just politely ignore this selection, be glad for readers who are really enjoying it, and make a mental note not to recommend it to my 8th grader.

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I want my kids to read. I want them to understand the magic of storytelling and how reading (fiction or non) can enlighten you, show you new things, get your mind working in new ways.

I don’t want them to think reading has to be only about particular topics, or “boring” content, or that there are all these “rules”. For example, that only girls can read/write romance stories. Or that only boys can enjoy military-themed dystopias.

The major thing I ask is that they not try to tackle something that, developmentally, they’re not ready for. Would people get really upset if I read Twilight or The Hunger Games to my toddler? Duh. Then I think it’s really not too much to want publishers to make a more clear distinction between their YA and their NA releases.

Right now, White Fang is struggling with Zeroes (S. Westerfield, M. Lanagan, D. Biancotti). I don’t blame him. I read the first chapter, and while it’s classified as YA, it should be YA for age 17 and up. These characters are going to clubs and on dates and almost committing crimes, and all that is not something the average middle-schooler in suburbia can relate to.

I’ve heard a lot of college students have enjoyed this book. Good for them. It totally proves my point.

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The reason White Fang ended up with this selection, though, is because everything else in the library he’s either already read, not interested in, or now outgrown. When people classify middle grade and YA fiction, they apparently go from ages 10 and 11 straight to 16 and over.

As an Early Childhood graduate, I am very aware that every developmental stage is important, and presumably I’m not alone in this. So why does there not seem to be a market for the 12 to 14-year-olds? A few decades ago, people complained that there weren’t enough books aimed specifically at ages 13 to 17 — hence the YA genre was born. But now that we know even more, scientifically and socially, about where these “tweens” are cognitively and emotionally, why do we still insist on trying to lump them into some other category? Why the rush?

And why are we so determined to make adolescents into 21-year-olds? What’s the point?

We need to go back to what our kids need, not what makes the most money. We need to redefine the categories again. And then we need to respect it.

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11 thoughts on “YA versus NA: It’s Time for That Discussion”

  1. I think it’s a fair point about labelling books properly- I will sound about 90 when I say this but back when I was younger a book said on the back if it had explicit content so parents could decide for themselves- now that doesn’t seem to be the case. I also think it’s annoying for adults cos the lines are so blurred now between genres that I can be reading a book that’s been sold as urban fantasy, say, and then be completely taken aback by sudden sex scenes- it’s not that I care if it’s new adult- I just want to know what I’m getting into! Great discussion idea!!

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    1. Yeah, I was thinking the same thing… When I was an adolescent, it was much more clear which books were meant for those ages 14-18, and which ones were not. Now, as you said, the lines are so blurred that many 16/17’s are just reading about trolls and hobgoblins and a sorcerer who likes cake too much, and then – bam! lots of nudity and words and emotions that they shouldn’t even consider until they’re in a committed relationship with a mortgage. 😛 And it does throw in a wrench for adults who don’t prefer that in their reading, either!

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  2. This is SO relevant–my younger sister is a tween, I suppose, and she’s getting interested in the YA genre….and how the heck do I make her SLOW DOWN because you do NOT need graphic sex, missy, or pages and pages of cuss words and sex jokes. And yet YA books are generally well-written, or at least engaging, and she just falls head-over-heels into them. You’re right–we do need a new genre.

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    1. I’m coming across the same problem now that I have a teenager – the first time he ventured outside of MG (because he’d read everything our library had to offer that he was interested in), I steered him right to YA that either I knew had a minimal amount of all these things, or that I hoped would. He and I both had some let-downs. Luckily we’ve been able to find some great MG books that he’s so interested in the subject matter that he doesn’t mind they’re “technically” a little below his expected reading level.

      Thanks for joining the discussion!

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      1. Hint, hint… 😉 I do try to bring attention to novels I read labeled “juvenile fiction” that actually are appropriate for kids. I was thinking about doing a special feature on the topic, maybe after I get my self-publishing going and finish Camp NaNo (and have a little more time to craft such an involved post!).

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